Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 3:20 PM

COS 98-6: Seed and feeder preferences of wild birds in the United States and Canada

David J. Horn, Millikin University


Each year, over 55 million Americans over the age of 16 feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes, and spend more than 3.8 billion dollars on bird seed, feeders, and other accessories. More people feed birds and other wildlife than hunt and fish combined. Despite its popularity, many bird feeding traditions lack a scientific basis, and the practice of feeding wild birds is one of the most understudied wildlife management issues in the United States. Project Wildbird is a U.S. and Canada-wide study of bird seed and feeder preferences. Between 2005-2008, 202 individuals from 42 states and 3 provinces in Canada made over 20,000, 45-minute observations of bird feeders, recording 106 species and 1,282,424 bird visits.


The ten most common species visiting feeders were American Goldfinch, Black-capped Chickadee, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, House Finch, House Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Pine Siskin, and Purple Finch. Of the ten seed types most commonly used in bird seed mixes, five were most attractive to birds: black-oil sunflower, fine and medium sunflower chips (hulled sunflower), Nyjer (thistle), and white proso millet. Other seeds such as red milo were less attractive to birds. In general, chickadees, nuthatches, and larger finches preferred black-oil sunflower, smaller finches preferred Nyjer and sunflower chips, and sparrows and other ground-feeding species preferred white proso millet. Platform and tube feeders had the greatest number of bird visits and platform feeders attracted the greatest number of species. Studies such as Project Wildbird can be used to develop scientifically-based best practices for wild bird feeding, a hobby engaged in by a significant number of Americans.